Airport director: flight use up; more revenue needed
By PETER JOHNSON • Tribune Staff Writer • December 8, 2010
Great Falls International Airport had its second busiest summer in memory in terms of airline boardings and could be headed for one of its best years, airport director John Faulkner told city commissioners Tuesday.
Even so, competition among U.S. cities for air service is at its peak, and Montana airports have some of the most expensive tickets in the Northwest, he told city officials.
So the Airport Authority is looking into ways to lower the fees it charges airlines, considering a landing fee rebate once new flights have been established a year and might even ask local companies to book tickets in advance to lure airlines to add flights, he said.
Great Falls flights have been increasingly filled, thanks in part to increased use by passengers who drive down from Canada, Faulkner said.
Allegiant Air added some additional flights to both Phoenix and Las Vegas this fall, while Delta increased the size of a plane serving Salt Lake City. Both factors boosted plane boardings from Great Falls, he said.
But airline tickets from Great Falls and most other Montana airports are among the most expensive in the Northwest because there is little airline competition, Faulkner said.
And competition for airline service is at its peak since airlines have reduced the number of seats available by 20 percent since 2000 because of the tight economy, mergers and other factors.
So the Airport Authority is striving to reduce its airline fees, from an already low $5.27 per passenger to below $5, Faulkner said. As an incentive, it’s considering rebating part of an airline’s landing fee after it runs a new flight for a year. The airport might ask area businesses to book some tickets in advance to persuade airlines to start new routes.
Faulkner said the airport is looking for ways to increase its revenue so it won’t be so reliant on airliner landing fees. He said the authority is considering building a new hangar that AvMax could use to expand its regional jet maintenance work and ways to commercially develop 150 acres of vacant land alongside Interstate 15.
In other discussion, Airport Authority Chairman Jeff Mangan and member Jim Morin said the authority’s improved procedures and committee system have allowed better fiscal oversight and more transparent bidding on projects. Commissioner Susan Humble said airport operations have been “more cohesive” with new director Faulkner.
Mangan said the authority plans regular, periodic meetings with the city and county commissions.
Airport authority members asked the city commission to reappoint two authority members, Morin and Owen Robinson, whose terms are expiring.
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